And So We Come To A Milestone

Ish's Hammer(1)

After five years and 171 posts, reviewing George R. Stewart’s work, reporting on projects being developed to honor him, and describing his influence on human societythis web log about George R. Stewart has come to a milestone.  The weblog’s author is moving.

It’s been a luxury to have a comfortable place to research and write about him, and hopefully that’s been reflected in posts that are longer and more readable than ones written on the fly.  Now, the author  is leaving his comfortable office, and heading out to seek new adventures.  This means that there may be gaps in the posts, and posts may be less developed.

Fortunately, this is a milestone in other ways.

For one thing, all of his major work has been described here on this site.   So without reading all of Stewart’s books, the fans of some of them can see the intellectual and artistic context in which they are placed. His masterwork Earth Abides, for example, can be seen as the pinnacle of his ecological novels – the books in which the ecosystem, not humans, is the protagonist.  And readers of this web log will now also know that Stewart’s ecological best sellers, published long before Earth Day or the rise of the Environmental Consciousness, certainly helped bring that Consciousness about.

It is a milestone, too, in sharing those honors which he is increasingly gathering.   The interpretive sign at Donner Summit is in place during the summer when the old highway he immortalized, U.S. 40, is open to traffic.  The GRS ePlaque is now online at the Berkeley Historical Plaque site.  (Someday, if funding is found and permission gathered, a physical plaque could be placed at the site of Stewart’s San Luis Road home.)   Junlin Pan, Chinese scholar, is well along in her difficult translation of Names on the Land for an immense Chinese audience eager to learn about America.  The sheet music for Philip Aaberg’s Earth Abides is soon to be published, thanks (like the US 40 sign) to the contributions of friends of Stewart.  And, just perhaps, there’s an Earth Abides mini-series on the horizon.  It’s been a pleasure and an honor to have been part of these things.

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New GRS Interpretive Sign, Donner Summit, Historic U.S. 40, just above the Rainbow Bridge and Donner lake, and just below George R. Stewart Peak.

Along the way of the weblog, we’ve been reminded of how Stewart’s work still directs us, and encourages us.  One of the great Stewart interpreters, for example, recently refused to sign an illegal loyalty oath in his unenlightened college system – a college system in a state whose voters salivate over the chance to pack weapons into diners, but apparently have little use for freedom of thought.  Surely, that Stewart interpreter, that hero of thought, (a famous poet and author), was inspired by Stewart’s Year of the Oath.  And as the ecosystem gets our attention through climate change, we can all be reassured by the ecological novels that humans can survive and transcend any such changes.

Stewart once wrote that although his scholarly life had often been a lonely
one, he had enjoyed some fine meetings along the way. That is true for this web log, as well.  It’s brought us into conversations with a professor at Temple University, well-known author Christopher Priest, and several dedicated Stewart fans, who’ve all shared their experiences with Stewart’s books.  It brought into the light a remarkable 1929 silent film of George R. Stewart and his parents, visiting his wife’s Wilson relatives in Pasadena – a film now copied, thanks to Ross Wilson Bogert and his son, and placed in the Bancroft, other Stewart collections, and the collections of the Stewart family.

So we’ve done a lot. And if this weblog needs to take a break, it’s earned the right to do it.

But the site will return, because there’s much yet to discuss.  Stewart’s friends, for example, like C.S. Forester and Wallace Stegner and Bruce Catton and Frost and Sandburg and all the rest.  And there will be news, of that you can be sure, about George R. Stewart and his continuing influence on us all.

Thanks to you, readers, for enriching and expanding this weblog with your comments, your encouragement, your suggestions, your support, and your continuing interest in things Stewartian.

 

Author George R. Stewart in one of his favorite places, Nevada

from the anna evenson stewart family photo collection

George R. Stewart, Predictor of 7-20-1969

George R. Stewart opened Ordeal By Hunger, in 1936, with a look at northern Nevada from a 200 mile high orbit – and described the scene so perfectly that when Astronaut Ed Lu, of ISS Expedition Seven, photographed it,  Stewart’s words and Lu’s photos matched precisely. In Storm, Stewart ended the book with a view from Venus, in which his imagined watcher from that world saw no sign of storms disturbing our world. In both these books, Stewart – perhaps not realizing it, or perhaps realizing it, was preparing for that great event that took place 47 years ago today:  the First Step on another world.

Working for NASA, and working with Star Trek artists,  I’ve been honored with some exceptional gifts that memorialize that great day.  I’ll celebrate by contemplating a wonderful gift given by Mike Okuda and another gift from NASA education days.

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Saturn 5 by Mike Okuda

 

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Space flown Apollo 25th Anniversary flag, courtesy NASA. (Signatures collected later.)

Take a moment, if you will, to honor those heroes, and all those who supported them, and the artists who inspire us to follow that dream.  Artists like Mike Okuda, Rick Sternbach, Doug Drexler,  Chesley Bonestell, David Hardy, and so many others, who fire our imaginations to design and build ships to explore other worlds.  And literary artists like George R. Stewart, who prepared us wonderfully for that First Step.

By the way, NASA has restored the entire 3+hours that Armstrong and Aldrin spent on the moon on Apollo Day I.   You can see it or download it here:

Distinguished Geographer Dr. Paul F. Starrs Reviews the GRS Biography

Dr. Paul F. Starrs is a distinguished professor of geography at the University of Nevada, Reno.  He’s received many accolades for his teaching and research, including four awards for excellence in teaching and a Fulbright Scholarship.  He has also written or co-written several books – most recently, the wonderful UC Field Guide to California Agriculture. (Every road traveler to this agricultural state should carry a copy of that book.)   He and his colleague Peter Goin also did a fine little book about a Nevada place, Black Rock,  immortalized by George R. Stewart in one of his ecological novels.

Dr. Starrs’ review of The Life and Truth of George R. Stewart has now been published in the Association of American Geographers (AAG) Review of Books.  More an essay than a simple review, his work discusses the life, ideas, and books of George R. Stewart in the context of the biography.  You need to be registered to read the full article – an expensive registry, I’m sure – but you can see the preview here:  http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/2325548X.2015.985537#abstract. 

It’s an honor to have been reviewed by him.

O Pioneers! II

More about the Pioneers who were the first to like the facebook post:

Philip Aaberg‘s music of place was inspired by the work of Wallace Stegner and George R. Stewart.  I met Phil thanks to Teacher Richard Brong of Galena Hi in the Reno area.   Phil composed “Earth Abides,” and Richard wondered if the title referred to Stewart’s great novel.   I tracked Phil down, called his company, Sweetgrass Music, spoke with his manager (and wife) Patty, and eventually to Phil.   And thus began a friendship.  Phil spoke and played at the CONTACT George R. Stewart Symposium, endorsed the GRS biography, and did a fine review of the book for the Great Falls Tribune.   He’s been busy recording new CD material, and is working on a classical CD at the moment.

Paul Starrs, distinguished professor of Geography at the University of Nevada, Reno, was another endorser of the GRS biography.  Jack Stewart connected us, and Paul invited me to address the Geography Graduate Colloquium.  He’s published books about one of the places Stewart wrote about; and recently, about California agriculture.   The photos from the latter book are now on display in the Bancroft Library — which is also keeper of the George Rippey Stewart, Jr., Papers.

Michael Ward is an active ePublisher, a judge for the HUGO awards, and the creator of the George R. Stewart webpages (accessed through a link in the menu at the top of the page).  He has been instrumental in the production and publicizing of the book, and is thus deserving of great praise and appreciation.

I’ve known Diane Farmer Ramirez almost since she was born.  Her mother and my then-wife worked together.  Her father, Dave, is a fine photographer, a collector of Leicas, a very good friend (notably in times of need) who once sold me a good car for 50 bucks.   Diane and her husband are raising a wonderful family – which is somewhat hard to visualize since to me she’s still a kiddo herself.

One of the leading experts on U.S. 40 and the National Road, Frank Brusca was a great help with the book.  He’s quoted in the chapter about Stewart’s classic U.S. 40.   Frank has written for AMERICAN ROAD magazine.  He has a minor starring role in William Least Heat Moon’s latest book, ROADS TO QUOZ, appearing in several chapters about the National Road and George R. Stewart.  Frank is currently working on an update to Stewart’s U.S. 40.

Gus Frederick, artist, publisher and CONTACT Board of Directors member, helped with the cover art for two books related to GRS — notably a teacher’s guide entitled From GeoS to Mars.   When he’s not working on one of his projects, he has been a great supporter of the GRS work. Gus also works closely with Dr. Penny Boston, exploring caves that may hold secrets to life on Mars.

Julie Shelberg is another kind stranger who likes the GRS page.   Since she’s a reader of science fiction, I assume she found us through searches for Stewart or EARTH ABIDES.   I do know that two of her daughters have just graduated from college, and that she has some fine, stirring quotes on her facebook postings.

Frank Brusca pointed me toward Harmut Bitomsky.  Inspired by U.S. 40, and commissioned to do a TV film about America’s Westward Movement, Bitomsky decided  to focus on the highway rather than the wagon trails.  The result was Highway 40 West, a film series which has become a classic in Germany. Bitomsky was Dean of the Film/Video School at CalArts, a university appropriately founded by Walt Disney, so our email interview was pretty easy to do.  He shared a deep understanding of why he made the film, adding some comments about other books of Stewart that have become favorites of his.  Bitomsky plans to release the film in an English version soon.

A key player at the old Walking Box Ranch – see her interviewed at about 38 minutes into this excellent BBC documentary Paula Garrett field manages the place for UNLV.  She had the great good sense to hire me as Caretaker; and the even greater wisdom to include my interpretive ideas, and me, in the planning process.   She’s also bought the book, and read it, the sign of a good mind.

In the next and final list of Pioneers, I’ll introduce those who like, and follow, the weblog pages.

BUY THE LIFE AND TRUTH OF GEORGE R. STEWART FOR ANDROID

If you’d like to read the book, don’t use Kindle, and don’t want to pay the price for the printed version, you can now order it for Android.  The price is the same as the Kindle price, $19 and change.

Here’s the link to the Android eBook:

https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Donald_M_Scott_The_Life_and_Truth_of_George_R_Stew?id=tcm9gxH5IWwC&feature=nav_result#?t=W251bGwsMSwxLDMsImJvb2stdGNtOWd4SDVJV3dDIl0.

Like the Kindle version, this version can also be read on a PC.

 

Dr. John Stewart — Jack — has passed away

Jack Stewart passed away today.

Jack was infinitely helpful with the writing of the biography of his father, George R. Stewart.   He shared his memories in great detail, and (like his sister Jill Stewart Evenson), brought life into the book.)

Jack once said that it was hard to be the son of George R. Stewart.  He felt overpowered by his father’s ability to research and write works that helped define the twentieth century by popularizing the ecological view of human affairs decades before anyone else did so.

Yet Jack was as accomplished in the same general field, if in a more focused way:  Jack was THE USGS “Man” for Nevada.  He produced the USGS map of Nevada, and wrote the book that accompanied it.    Jack also helped his father with the research and photography for Fire, US 40 and Sheep Rock; so he is also an unsung hero in the work of George R. Stewart.

The incident which most shows how George R. Stewart felt about Jack is in the great classic, Earth Abides.   At the moving conclusion of the novelThe Hammer of Ish2 copy (which was dedicated to Jill), Ish, the human hero passes his hammer – symbol of power and leadership – to his descendant Jack.

There was a real hammer.  Jack inherited it.  So, in the real world as well as George R. Stewart’s world-changing book, Jack became the keeper of the Hammer of Ish.

One of my goals in writing the GRS biography was to produce a book that Jack  would feel did justice to his father, and the family.  He did get to see and read the book, enjoyed it, and bought copies to share with friends.  That is perhaps my greatest satisfaction from the entire project.

If you are so inclined, and find a moment to do so, please send some positive thoughts toward Jack, and his family.

Don Scott

George R. Stewart’s Ordeal By Hunger — First Whole Earth work

(PLEASE NOTE:  For some reason, WordPress is not inserting paragraph breaks in part of this post.  Please read it with that understanding.  Thanks, DMS.)

 

I believe George R. Stewart’s Ordeal By Hunger was the most important book of the twentieth century.

The book is the history of one of the great calamities of the Westward movement, the stuff of nightmares:  The story of the Donner Party.

The Donner Party, from an eastern ecosystem, made the mistake of listening to trail salesman Lansford W. Hastings.  Hastings’ “shortcut”  delayed the Party and the worst winter in many years pinned them down at what is now called Donner Lake, just below what is now known as Donner Pass.    Rescue parties tried to bring food in and survivors out, but the harsh winter meant that they would have limited success.  Members of the Donner Party tried to escape by climbing through the deep snow over the 7000+ foot pass, but most were forced back by weather and deep snow.  Eventually, their food gone, those at the camps by the lake, and some of those stranded by snow on their way to Sutter’s Fort were forced to eat human flesh.  Those acts of necessary cannibalism insured that the story of the Donner Party would become a major part of the story of the Westward Movement, and the settlement of California, even though it was actually a small blip on the historic record.

One of the survivors, Virginia Reed, summed it up in a letter to a relative written a year later:

I have not wrote to you half the trouble we have had but I have wrote enough to let you know that you don’t know what trouble is. But thank God we have all got through and the only family that did not eat human flesh. We have left everything but I don’t care for that. We have got through with our lives but Don’t let this letter dishearten anybody. Never take no cutoffs and hurry along as fast as you can.

“Never take no cutoffs and hurry along as fast as you can” is one of the great lessons of the Westward Movement.
But that’s not the reason I believe this history is critical to understanding our time.  It’s the two epiphanies Stewart had while working on the book, which he wrote into it.
Books  write themselves, even though authors do the hard slogging of getting things down on paper.  Stewart had a dickens of a time trying to put the book together.   There was the long trek across the plains, through the Rockies and the Wasatch, and over the deserts; there was the barrier of the Sierra Nevada (the name means “Snowy Mountains, which should have been a warning); there were the two winter camps; there were the various parties of emigrants braving the Sierra Nevada, seeking safety; there were the several parties of rescuers braving those same storms as they headed into the Sierra Nevada — the story was all over the map of eastern central California.
That gave Stewart an idea — he’d map the story.  Stewart loved maps, and he loved to make maps.  So they were the perfect tool to help him put the story together.  As he mapped out the various events, he realized that he could use a technique of English to make the story compelling:  He would follow one group until there was a critical moment, and then move to another group, similarly following them to a  crisis, and then return to the first group to reveal how things had worked out.  So readers would turn the pages quickly, eager to see what would happen next to each of the groups.
But mapping showed Stewart something much more important:  The importance of the geography of the story in its eventual outcome.  As Stewart put it, in the book, “It should be obvious to the reader that I consider the land to be a character in the work.”  That simple statement, and the understanding it contains, reveal one of the great moments in western thought.  Shakespeare told readers that the world is simply a stage for humans to act on.  Stewart is telling his readers – us – that Shakespeare is wrong.  The world – Earth, and its ecosystems – “The land” – is the principal player in any human drama.  It is a remarkable vision, and it prepared readers for the great paradigm shift of the twentieth century, the idea that an ecological view of the world is the correct one.
What defeated the Donners, and defined the character of the human players in this tale, was their ignorance of ecosystems.  They were easterners, and had no sense of the ecological reality of deserts or high  “Snowy Mountains.”
Once he’d come to understand the ecological viewpoint, the idea that the land is a character, Stewart seems to have decided to emphasize that in the beginning of the book.   Most histories of this type would begin with the party starting their ill-fated journey west, or with an overview of the Westward Movement up to that.  But Stewart begins with an unprecedented look at northern Nevada and eastern California from the perspective of space.
To observe the scene of this story, the reader must for a moment imagine himself …raised in space some hundreds of miles above a spot near the center of the state of Nevada.  …Far to his left, westward, the onlooker from the sky just catches the glint of the Pacific Ocean; far to his right, on the eastern horizon, high peaks of the Rockies forming the Continental Divide cut off his view.  Between horizons lie thirteen degrees of longitude, a thousand miles from east to west…
He continues, describing the Earth from space so accurately that features in Astronaut photos of the area can easily be identified.
Stewart did this, mind you, 24 years before anyone actually saw that view.  But in writing the Astronaut’s perspective into the opening of the work, he was making the point that all human experience took place in small ecological microcosms in that huge macrocosm of Earth.   Now, of course, we have moved away from Earth, and the idea is not unusual.  But he was the first to define our stories as Earth stories, and Earth ecosystem stories.  A quarter of a century before humans actually saw the view, and began to speak of “Earth,” he was preparing us.
In writing the book, Stewart developed two remarkable ideas.

The Whole Earth concept – the idea that Earth  from afar is small and beautiful; and from the surface a complex ecological and geographic system; and which defines the actions of all life, including human life – can be said to be the defining idea of the twentieth century So that century should be known as the first Whole Earth century.  It was the time when we began to see ourselves as a raft of life on a very special place in the universe, and it was the first time humans  did so.   Ordeal By Hunger, the first Whole Earth book, prepared us for this great change in our understanding.

For the first time in human experience, a book was written which educated its readers to the understanding that Earth and its ecosystems are the principle protagonists in any human drama.

Once he’d experienced the Whole Earth epiphany, and shared it with readers, Stewart would continue writing books around that truth.  Over the next decade or so, he would invent a “literature of the land.”  He would invent the Whole Earth novel, and the ecological novel, and would refine them until he created his masterwork, Earth Abides.  In doing this work, he would build upon this most important of twentieth century books, the first book to see and share the Whole Earth idea.  Thus, George R. Stewart would shape the twentieth century.